Radio personality Casey Kasem used to sign off the air with the phrase “Keep your feet on the ground, but keep reaching for the stars.” I think of that quote often – especially when a student tells me that her dream is to become “CEO of my own Fortune 500 company.” Sadly, it is often said by someone who seems to have no idea of how to get there.
Reaching for the stars is wonderful. But staying rooted in reality may be even more helpful when pursuing those lofty goals.
Let’s face it: Many of us dream of a future that’s very different from our present, but we do a poor job of working toward our desires. We’re often overly optimistic about the outcome, and unrealistic about how much work it will take to achieve it. For instance, when we think about the executive position we plan to land, we don’t foresee the unrelenting stress, the months of graduate school, or the years of climbing the corporate ladder. Instead, we dream of victory celebrations.
In addition, most of us have a tendency towards what’s called “illusory superiority”—the belief that we are above average in our abilities, even though we all can’t possibly be. That’s why it’s crucial to be brutally honest as you assess yourself and the effort needed to achieve the goals you seek. Talk about your dreams with people who care about you and know you well – people you know will be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. They can help you gauge your skills and pinpoint your true passions. While you’re at it, be sure to seek out people who have already achieved the dream to which you aspire. Successful achievers can share the reality with you—both good and bad.
Next, stop imagining your “future self” as a stranger, and instead see that it is you — only older and (hopefully) wiser. In other words, set reasonable goals for the person you are now, instead of the person you think you will be. So rather than saying, “I’m going to become a world-famous chef,” start out with, “I’m going to learn to cook really well.” Instead of focusing on having a corner office in a New York City skyscraper, decide to take on additional tasks at your current job to prove your abilities to your boss. After all, the best guarantee of a better tomorrow is to do today’s work really, really well.
To stay positive and motivated, track your accomplishments as you go. Studies have shown that if you write down a goal, you’re more likely to achieve it. Researchers recently asked nearly 100 struggling students to complete an intensive written goal-setting program; after four months, those students were doing much better in school than a control group.
Finally, celebrate success, one step at a time. As you move toward your Bethel graduation, know that you are that much closer to achieving an exciting and important goal. Acknowledge what you’ve learned, and recognize how it will play a part in helping you reach your next big dream. Be realistic about what your diploma can do for you, and what you can do with your diploma. Above all, remember that you really can reach the stars – as long as you keep your feet on the ground.
Cindy Smith Chambers has 40 years’ experience in public relations and journalism. She serves as PR Director for Bethel University’s College of Professional Studies, and is a fulltime faculty member specializing in college writing and marketing.